Facebook announced Thursday it was banning “dangerous individuals” such as noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, alt-right figures Paul Nehlen, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as known anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan from both Facebook and Instagram.
A spokesperson at Facebook said it will also remove pages, groups and accounts set up on their behalf and will not promote events in which those people are participating.
Good riddance, we might say. The corrosive and cancerous ideas these individuals peddle have infected our politics, our media, our public discourse, our social fabric and our very sense of security.
It’s not surprising, then, that for many, this move has been celebrated as a positive development that is long overdue. After all, social media is, in no small part, responsible for the rise of these very odious hate-mongers.
The American Jewish Committee welcomed the ban, saying people such as Farrakhan and Jones “may have the right to spread vile hatred but Facebook has the right (and responsibility) to say ‘not on our platform.’”
The newspaper that has published my weekly column for a decade, the New York Daily News, echoed that sentiment in an editorial, writing: “They have a right of free speech, but they don’t have a right to pollute Facebook’s pages if Facebook doesn’t want them.”
On this, I agree totally with both the AJC and the Daily News. As a private company, Facebook can set its own standards. No one is arguing whether Facebook can ban hate speech from its platforms.
The question is, to what effect?
Even the Daily News editorial admitted this won’t necessarily solve the problem of spreading hate.
“A ‘dangerous’ standard, rather than a vague ‘anti-hate-speech’ one seems on surer footing – even as we are under no illusion that kicking out Jones, Farrakhan and the like will halt the rise of racism, anti-Semitism or other bigotry. Nonetheless, if it makes them harder to spread? So be it.”
Well, that comes with a pretty big Catch-22.
My issue with banning insidious voices isn’t theoretical. It isn’t over censorship or free speech. It’s practical. If we banish these people back to their basements, underground chat rooms and the nether-regions of the internet, we won’t see them as clearly as we need to. That’s, in some ways, how we got here – caught somewhat by surprise when it turned out racism and anti-Semitism are very much alive and well, with Nazis living next door while white nationalists move from the fringe to the mainstream.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Suppressing these dangerous voices might give us a false sense of security that if we can’t hear or see them, they no longer exist. They do – they are here. And I’d rather they hide in plain sight so we are better acquainted with our enemies than pretend that taking away their microphones is a solution.
Their microphones aren’t the problem. It’s their ideas.